Scanning Nuremberg: Teamwork and more updates from June and July analysis

Post by Matt Seccombe, August 9, 2018

During June and July I worked on the prosecution case under count 2 of the indictment, crimes against peace (or, wars of aggression), amounting to 196 documents and 1584 pages of material. The case includes the British prosecutor’s opening address on aggression, a review of the treaties Germany had signed and then violated, the planning (conspiracy) and execution (aggression) of the conquests of Czechoslovakia and Austria, and a detailed record of Germany’s conflict with Poland, ending with the war against Poland, England, and France in September 1939. The rest of the count 2 files will cover the later fronts in the war.

Teamwork: The IMT prosecution was a four-nation effort, which caused some complications. The US had a head start and led the research and analysis, but needed to share the presentation of the case with Britain, France, and USSR. While the US presented the case on count 1 (conspiracy or common plan), the British managed count 2, with the other nations contributing particular portions of the evidence. The transition was complicated, and one long-winded American prosecutor took some of the drama out of the British prosecutor’s opening address by failing to complete his own presentation first; the Briton’s speech became an interlude between the opening and closing parts of the American’s argument. Staff memos indicate that some US prosecutors were upset when they had to turn over their work to another team to present their arguments and evidence in court; they were told to swallow their pride. One British prosecutor eased the situation by carefully recognizing his American colleague’s “collaboration.”

Munich Two?: The sixth folder of evidence regarding Poland covers the flurry of diplomatic activity in August 1939 by Britain, Poland, and Germany on the question of a negotiated settlement of the German-Polish conflict over Danzig and other “Germanic” portions of Poland. On paper, at least, Germany was willing to negotiate, with the incentive that a negotiated settlement would avoid a war with Britain (Britain and France had both pledged to side with Poland if it were attacked). If Hitler secured Danzig and pledged that the issue was settled, as he had in Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain could repeat “Peace in our time.” In the event, the diplomatic gestures simply allowed Germany to claim it had tried to negotiate, pointing to the voluminous paper trail, and present its invasion of Poland as a defensive measure.

Savoring victory: After orchestrating the German occupation of Austria in March 1938, including dictating the message that the Austrian Nazis were to send to Berlin seeking rescue and the cover story that everything was done by the Austrians’ initiative, Goering filled in Ribbentrop in a long phone exchange that was recorded and transcribed. At the end of the conversation he lapsed into a reverie, spell-bound by his own triumph: “Blue sky. I am sitting here on my balcony, all covered in blankets, in the fresh air, drinking my coffee. . . . and the birds are twittering, and here and there I can hear over the radio the enthusiasm [in Austria], which must [be] wonderful over there.”

The HLS Library holds approximately one million pages of documents relating to the trial of military and political leaders of Nazi Germany before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) and to the twelve trials of other accused war criminals before the United States Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT). We have posted five trials so far (NMT 1 through NMT 4 and NMT 7) and have completed digitization of all the documents and transcripts. 

We are now engaged in the process of analyzing, describing and making machine readable the remaining trials’ materials in preparation for posting them to the Web. We hope to complete this work as soon as possible based upon available funding.  For more information about this project, please contact Jocelyn Kennedy.

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